Comedy

From Standup to Stormy Daniels: A Q&A With Denver Comedian Greg Studley

Greg Studley
Greg Studley with his Smarty Party cube of comedy.
Greg Studley is apparently pretty well named, at least if you ask porn star and Trump-era celeb Stormy Daniels. But that’s just one of the many things that Studley has become known for during his career in the entertainment business. After knocking around Hollywood for a number of years, he settled down in Denver, where he’s working a steady gig at Avanti, keeping locals laughing with his weekly Monday Night Smarty Party and the monthly Loco Local’s Comedy Extravaganza.

We caught up with Studley to talk about his long and winding road in, out and within kissing distance of fame, and how Denver stacks up in terms of funny.

Westword: Your career has been pretty wide-ranging. Can you give us a sense of where you started, and where your working road took you?

Greg Studley: I started with internships on the Howard Stern Show and The Afternoon Fiasco with Nik Carter in Boston, then moved to Hollywood and pivoted toward the film industry. I worked for Marc Platt Productions (Legally Blonde, Drive) at Universal. Because of my sheer incompetence — when I’d make “weekend read” script copies, I’d somehow lose pages — I ended up bartending in a karaoke bar in Burbank, listening to "Summer Nights," "Love Shack" and, ironically, "I Will Survive" way too many times. I didn’t think I would survive, but I knew I wanted to write, and prayed I could write my way out of my circumstances.

So how did you translate that into standup?

I wound up being repped by Paradigm Agency. Through that I was paired with a semi-famous comic who shall remain nameless. He told me I was hilarious when pitching and that I should try out standup. How many of us have "always thought about doing standup"? I was no exception, so I gave it a shot.

How’d that first time go?

I bombed. And I was pissed about it. So pissed in fact, I called up the club owner and told him I just performed in front of twenty open-mic-ers, of which none paid me any mind as they were going over their own bits. I told him that if he put me in front of guests who paid money to laugh, I would get said laughs. He said in twenty years of owning his club, nobody had ever called him up and made such a claim. He said to come back for the 8:30 show. I performed, and he asked me to come back the next night. And that went on for a few years — performing when I wasn’t bartending — until my last night working in L.A. That was a memorable one, indeed. I found myself hosting the Improv in Hollywood, where, in addition to my seven scheduled comics, my drop-ins were Bob Saget, Jeffrey Ross, Daniel Tosh, Dane Cook and Aziz Ansari. If you were one of the audience members who paid ten bucks to see the aspiring comics perform, you had a pretty legendary night.
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Denver-based comedian Greg Studley, keeping a weather eye for Storm(y)s.
Greg Studley
But you swore off the entertainment biz in 2012. What brought you back into it? What made you reconsider?

Ultimately, I couldn’t help myself. I’m the worst. I’m a dog who’ll do flips for the promise of a treat. It didn’t take much. I was asked by a local bar owner to produce a comedy show at his venue, [Hotel Jerome in Aspen], and I was immediately all in. I promised myself I wouldn’t, but I have zero integrity when it comes to me. You should see the resolutions I break January 1. Not unlike a moth to a light, I couldn’t say no. So I fielded some local talent and put the show on. Aspen was apparently in need of live entertainment like this, as not only did the show sell out, but we put speakers outside for those on the stairs who couldn’t get in but wouldn’t leave. All it took was that one little rush, and I was all in. See, writing is a marriage. Long-term reward requires patience, commitment. Standup is a one-night-stand, immediate-gratification kind of thing, and when it goes well, there’s nothing that compares.

So how did that turn into J-Bar Jeopardy?

The hiring managers were enamored with me for the simple reason that they’d never laughed out loud at a résumé, which lists comedy under my special skills alongside “Basic Karate” and “Feigning Interest in Others.” I shared that I was once a standup comic, and a few months later they decided I should host trivia, which in the immortal words of Mitch Hedberg is “like asking a chef to farm.” I’d never played bar trivia, but I just put myself in the heads of potential players, wrote some answerable but challenging questions and gave it a shot. The first game found me literally yelling questions. It was a huge hit, and the Jerome actually installed a PA system two days later. I ended up snagging two more venues and writing three years' worth of games.

And then you brought that show down from the mountains to become Smarty Parties at the two Avanti locations in Denver and Boulder. How did that come about?

When I moved to Denver, I wound up at Avanti, where I discovered one of the owners was one of my former superiors at the Jerome, to which I respond with, “Are you kidding me? I just drove four hours away and I STILL work for you?” He brought up how I hosted trivia and boosted sales at J-Bar, so we gave it a shot at Avanti. I was reluctant, as I believed the entertainment at Avanti was the amazing food, selection of said food and the overall vibe itself. I went in thinking I’d be walking into a buzzsaw, annoying the guests who came there specifically for the food, beverages and vibe, but that wasn’t the case. People kinda loved it, and I developed a regular crowd post-haste. I’d print out answer sheets, a picture round and hand out pens. I did that for four years, and then COVID hit. I didn’t want my players to go without, so as I sat in quarantine, I found a digital platform where I could also stream the game on Avanti’s entertainment channel (I know, right?) from my brother’s kitchen in Rhode Island until quarantine ended. Since then, I’ve kept the on-the-phone format, and now my players use their phones to submit answers, and I don’t need to use the analog paper system.

Any favorite questions you were especially proud of? Or memorable answers?

I came up with a "same-sex-communication-devices-also-known-as-homophones" category, where I’d ask things like, “This is a chivalrous warrior who operates nocturnally” And players would have to answer a “night knight." I was a huge fan of creating un-Googleable answers. Yes I’m very wordy-inventy. Apologies.

What are the prizes patrons are playing for?

I’ve been lucky with the Jerome and Avanti in that they provide $30 gift cards for first and the Ketel One liquor reps have always stepped up with some sweet swag. Moscow Mule mugs, the softest T-shirts ever made, flasks, blow-up rafts, and coozies for the teams for whom things didn’t go well. We’d even schedule “seasons,” where every four months we gave away the big stuff: Go-Kart racing, indoor sky diving, axe throwing, skis, snowboards, and my favorite, THE Fat Tire cruiser bike they feature on the can!

Okay, Stormy Daniels. Now there's a brush with greatness that would have made for a good story on Letterman. Can you tell us how in the world that came about? What Stormy was like? Good kisser?

Fantastic kisser. She kept her eyes closed the whole time. I checked twice.

Take us through how that happened. It must have been surreal.

Yeah. Four years ago I was decompressing at Tryst after a hard shift slinging beers on the roof deck at Coors Field and was in need of tequila to wash away the hurt. I was minding my own business, earbuds in, seated away from the three regulars at the bar, when in walked this buxom blonde bombshell with a body built for sin and an entourage of five dudes.

I had no clue who she was, which was strange, as I’d memorized many a thumbnail in my day. She ended up sitting next to me and we began chatting. She asked for my name, I asked for hers, and when she said “Stormy” and we shook hands, it hit me. I’d been burning material on Stormy Daniels for the past ten minutes. Those minutes turned to hours. At one point I’d asked if her boyfriend would be upset for me monopolizing her time this way. “Oh, he’s not my boyfriend; he’s a writer for Rolling Stone following me for a story.” She then informed me that the other guys were her tour manager and security detail.

Before we knew it, 2 a.m. rolled around, and they were whisked into the VIP lounge for some after-hours drinking. I didn’t want to insinuate myself further into their night because I have an abundance of self-hatred and don’t want to be anyone’s inconvenience, so I ordered an Uber, content with my cool story of how I talked to Stormy Daniels for three hours.
Understandable. Noble, even, or maybe just realistic. But that’s not where the story ends, right?

Seconds away from the driver putting the car in “D” and taking me away from the fateful encounter, there was a knock on the window. It was the Rolling Stone writer. I rolled down the window. He said, “Hey, man, if you gotta go, you gotta go. But if you can stay, you should stay. She really liked you.” I grabbed my phone and hit “Cancel” about thirteen times. For a moment I briefly worried about my Uber rating as my credit score, and so that’s the thing I hold on to, then quickly got my shit together. I walked back into the bar, slid into the VIP lounge next to her. We started up another conversation, this time about her horses, and my brain’s front office sent me the “Now or Never” memo. I put my hand on her knee, slid it up to an appropriate altitude, leaned in and kissed her. I felt like Kevin Arnold kissing Winnie in The Wonder Years — yes, I’m old. Only in this case, Kevin was a half-drunk bartender drinking illegally, and Winnie was the most famous porn star in the universe. We ended up leaving with her entourage and several regulars kicked up from the “Stormy Daniels Is at Tryst” news, bound for an after-party on Tennyson. Everything after that is redacted.

Fair. So how did you and Stormy part?

We exchanged numbers, she left for a 6 a.m. flight, bound for a dancing gig in Raleigh at 4:30. I was responsible with her number, and we stayed in touch for a year. She asked me for some advice regarding her desire to try standup comedy, and I told her, “Sure: Don’t.” Then I gave her actual advice, but what do I know? But it turned out I gave her the same advice Kathy Griffin did. She ended up doing 45 minutes of storytelling in Houston. It went over well, so she then asked me what I was doing that September. “You tell me," I said. [She asked,] “Want to go on tour with me?” [I responded,] “Um, lemme think about that — yes.” So we went on a little tour where I opened for her in Connecticut, NYC, and did a gig in SLC and St. Louis, after which I returned to make simple syrup and Old Fashioneds.

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And then you wrote a novel, This Comic Kills, based on your experiences in standup. How did that book come to be?

I’m a true-crime addict, and I love comedy. The idea to marry the two resulted in the creation of my alter-ego acting as a touring standup comic who moonlights as a serial killer. I attempted to discuss the world of comedy through inner monologue in the vein of American Psycho, where Patrick Bateman pontificates about Phil Collins and Huey Lewis from a sociological point of view. It’s a solid C plus for a first novel, as screenplays are more in my wheelhouse.

But you didn’t stop with the novel; you also developed a podcast, Behind Bars: Cocked Tails and Wasted Nights.

Cocked Tales is a side effect of a conversion of a screenplay I wrote in 2003 into a radio drama, as I’m a radiophile. I’d always loved the ’50s stuff. X-1, Mr and Mrs North, Box 13, Dragnet, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Johnny Dollar, etc. I got one made; Stormy played the female lead. I bought the equipment, and after my audio engineer bowed out due to the avalanche of free effort it took, I decided I’d share all the absolutely ridiculously stupid things I’ve done in my dubious bartending career that spans over twenty years.

It’s a collection of raw and brutally honest anecdotes I probably shouldn’t share, but I’m embracing total truth these days. The structure is thus: a puzzling exchange I’ve had with a guest, the theme song, a drink recipe, the story, then me imparting a “tip” for the listener on bar etiquette, hopefully educating the drinkers one episode at a time.

My goal is to shine a light on what goes on in our profession. To give you an idea of the debauchery, some episode titles include “The Night I Fell Off the Bar,” “The Night I Puked Into the Cash Register,” “The Night I Blew It on National Television,” “The Night I Wound up in Colombia” and “The Night I Was Sexually Harassed by a Gay French Butler.”

So your Flatiron Funnies Comedy Extravaganza started this January, and will be ongoing monthly. What do you envision for that event, and how have the shows been so far?

We’re two shows in, and they’ve been well attended. I envision at-capacity shows going into the spring and summer season, and bringing much-needed comedy to Boulder...and comedy one must suit to fit the Boulder crowd, as it’s a bit — okay, a lot — more conservative in its liberalism, if that makes sense. In other words: Know your audience. Stuff that murders in Denver may not fly in Boulder. This always throws me, as one should expect to hear the spectrum of network-safe to edgy comedy when attending a standup show. Enter at your own peril.

You mention that the comedy scene here in Denver is as good — possibly better — than L.A.'s. What's your argument for that? What does Denver have going for it that L.A. doesn't (or doesn't anymore)?

First off, I need to establish that I’m more a consumer of comedy than a talent of any sort. I’m answering this question solely as an observer of comedy, as I’m only qualified to make this judgment as a human being who enjoys drinking and laughing. I’m just a schmo, not a critic. That said, here goes.

The comics in Denver don’t have “a project they’re developing,” a pilot they’re auditioning for, an indie they’re starring in. They just do comedy. They do the damn thing. In contrast to the circuit comics in L.A. whose sets I’ve memorized, a much higher percentage of the stable in Denver is constantly writing and risking new material on stage. It’s amazing to see. I’ve rarely heard the same set from the pros in town. The dedication to the craft by some of them is nothing short of inspiring. And the talent is there. There’s a few I can see realistically having a special within a year. As a producer and host, I jump on the proverbial grenade and pretty much bomb consistently, and it’s honestly made me so gun-shy, I’m terrified of trying new stuff, but again, these folks risking humiliation on the regular are prodding me to attempt to be better.
And Comedy Works is so great at cultivating new talent, open to putting visiting comics on, and really has created a comedy-going crowd. That’s spread to so many venues willing to host comedy nights, and I’m beyond elated that Avanti is now among them.

Catch Greg Studley on Mondays at the Monday Night Smarty Party and at Loco Local's Comedy Extravaganza at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, and Wednesday, April 13, Avanti, 3200 Pecos Street. For more, check his website.